A PhD student at the Australian National University has reportedly documented some of the first scientific evidence that video game addiction has a fundamental affect on the attention system of sufferers, a phenomenon seen in heroin, nicotine, alcohol and gambling addictions.
Reports by SMH, and ABC (which predictably ran with the sensationalised headlines Video game craving 'bad as alcohol'
, and Video games as addictive as gambling: study
) explain that ANU student Olivia Metcalf studied excessive World of Warcraft players, and discovered that some of the participants demonstrated "attentional bias", a symptom theorised as a major factor in the development of addiction. The research appears to have been presented to the public for the first time at a recent Australian Government-sponsored event hosted by Fresh Science (via: fresh science.org.au
Olivia presented about 20 video gaming “addicts” with different words and asked them to respond to the colour of the word, not the meaning. They were significantly slower to name the colour of gaming-related words compared to words which had nothing to do with gaming. Non-addicted gamers showed no difference in response times.
“We found that the attention system of an excessive gamer gives top priority to gaming information. Even if they don’t want to think about gaming, they are unable to stop themselves. This likely makes stopping or cutting back on gaming even more difficult,” Olivia says.
“This phenomenon, known as attentional bias, is found across heroin, nicotine, alcohol and gambling addictions, and is thought to be a significant factor in the development of an addiction.”
The affect was reportedly not found in people who play games but don't experience negative symptoms, and Ms Metcalf is quoted clarifying that researchers are not out to restrict or ban gaming with the findings:
"We're really just focusing on helping this minority of individuals who are experiencing negative problems and to make sure that video games stay fun for them," she said.
"We want video games to stay fun and enjoyable and entertaining for everybody."
The research hopes to assist psychologists to "develop effective treatments for gamers who are unable to stop".